COLUMN | ‘Cancel culture’ is contrary to our humanity

Columnist Steve Smyth shares his thoughts on how times are changing

By Steve Smyth

As a 30-year hockey coach and one of the Hockeyville organizing committee members, one of my enduring memories was spending time with Don Cherry during the Hockeyville weekend. For the uninitiated, escorting Don Cherry around is somewhat akin to walking the streets of Rome with the Pope. Everybody had to stop to shake his hand, share a story or pose for a picture.

It took 20 minutes to walk the 10 steps from the front door of the hotel to the elevator. When the lights were turned off, the elevator doors were closed and “his people” were gone, Cherry gave a small sigh and turned off “Grapes” and became “Don”. Sitting in a room later and swapping hockey stories with the real Don was a remarkable time, and one I won’t forget.

This “you people” poppy fiasco is not the way Cherry wanted to go out, but out he went, walking away and resigning rather than promise not to censor his comments or opinions in the future. Regardless of how you interpret his comments, particularly the unfortunate “you people” comment, he had a right to his opinion.

As a consumer, you have a right to disagree with that opinion and to not support his show, his sponsors or his corporate masters – the same corporate masters who loved his ratings and rolled in the profits and advertising dollars he made for them.

Soon after, stories began to emerge of other high-profile coaches, in hockey and other sports, who were accused of physical, verbal and even sexual abuse of the athletes in their care. As someone who grew up in hockey, I can verify that “style” of coaching existed. A great many successful coaches I knew were loud and crude and bullying was part of their act. Shaming, verbal abuse and even physical contact were considered acceptable behavior so long as the team was winning.

Thankfully, times are changing. For the most part, today’s coaches are more educated, better prepared and aware of the effect that their style and behaviour have on young people. I’m not proud of some of my own behaviours in decades past but as a body of work, I can say I always had the players’ interest and development at heart.

Hockey Canada and other governing bodies have led the way with respect training, online courses and clinics that show that the “old way” of doing things is no longer acceptable, and sport is better off because of it.

Regardless of advances, Don Cherry is only one high-profile victim of “cancel culture” or the high court of offended internet opinion. A small number of so-called progressive thinkers have appointed themselves moral judge, jury and executioner.

The modern equivalent of an old-time mob, they promote a form of superiority that is affirmed by a noisy and perpetually offended few. Any public personality who deviates from this moral standard by demonstrating insufficient sensitivity and deference will soon find themselves canceled.

Social media warriors have skipped the essential step of societal persuasion and skipped right to the execution. This cancellation is the modern equivalent of putting people in the stocks or branding adulterers in the village square. What is more troublesome is the that digital mob, its pitchforks shined to a glistening point, is scanning the internet daily, looking for its next victims.

Tragically, it seems that anyone with an opinion should be wary of sharing it, lest they themselves become “cancelled”.

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